Prison Health is Public Health: UNODC supports COVID-19 preparedness and responses in prisons in Maldives


Male (Maldives)/30 June 2020: Across the world, the COVID-19 global pandemic has highlighted the extreme vulnerability of people in places of detention. Especially, the transmission pathways for the novel coronavirus poses particular risks to confined populations, such as those in prisons, where physical distancing is a significant challenge and, in most cases, quite impossible. This vulnerability is exacerbated by the weaker health profile of prison populations. Fair, humane and holistic prison management response similarly requires an equitable health care response, guided by internationally acceptable standards of response and care.

The Government of Maldives recognizes the importance of prison health in their commitment to align prison management with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules). In order to support the Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) in these capacities and enhance the rule-of-law based approach to countering terrorism, UNODC began delivering the project “Support to Maldives on Counter-Terrorism”, in partnership with INTERPOL and with funding by the European Union. 

As part of UNODC’s technical support to the Government’s prison health response to COVID-19, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA), in coordination with the Ministry of Home Affairs Maldives and MCS, organized a 1-day online training on Tuesday, 30th June 2020 on the prevention and containment of viruses in places of detention.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Sergey Kapinos, Regional Representative, UNODC ROSA, addressed the critical nature of prison health. “Good prison health is good public health. In pandemics such as COVID-19, we must not forget prisoners, as well as prison officials tasked with their safe, secure and humane custody. We must not leave anyone behind in our social protection response,” he said.  

The training was delivered by UNODC consultant Mr. Fredrick Holmgren, Senior Prison Expert, with the support of Ms. Aidah Mnyolomo, Rehabilitation and Reintegration expert from Kenyan Prison Service. The training focused on: the importance of integrating the health of populations in closed settings within the national public health response; enhancing the capacity of prison staff and medical staff working in prisons; information on international standards; and knowledge exchange through the sharing of best practices on prison management from Sri Lanka, Kenya and Sweden in crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discussions between UNODC experts and participants centred around the importance of: contingency plans to ensure an effective response to a COVID-19 outbreak in prisons; implementation of prison health strategies and guidelines; the uninterrupted availability of personal protective equipment (PPE); and capacity building for prison officers and medical officers. In particular, prison officers from various prisons across the country shared the challenges they have experienced because of the limited contact with families during lengthy periods of quarantine in island prisons. 

During her intervention, Ms. Catherine Haswell, United Nations Resident Coordinator for Maldives, highlighted “This training from UNODC comes at a critical time and supports the national response to COVID-19, especially in prison settings, to protect inmates and officers of the Maldives Correctional Service. It is equally pertinent to stress the importance of psychosocial support, both for people in prisons, already denied of their liberty, as well as the officers working in detention facilities".

Government dignitaries, Mr. Ahmed Mohamed Fulhu, Commissioner of Prisons, Maldives and Mr. Tholath Raufuddeen, Director General, Ministry of Home Affairs were represented in the key interventions to officiate the online training. 

Over 40 prison officers and medical officers working in prisons in the Maldives within MCS benefited from the training. UNODC will share with the Government a Dhivehi (local language) translation of UNODC Guidelines on Viruses in Places of Detention, with the support of identified national counterparts and funding by the European Union. 

This article was produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.